Cancer of unknown primary (CUP)

Noticing symptoms

Cancer of unknown primary (CUP)

Noticing symptoms

Cancers and other diseases can cause symptoms. These are changes in your body that you notice. Examples of symptoms are having a cough, a pain or a lump.  

Symptoms can be caused by many illnesses, not just cancer, but it is always best to have them checked out by a GP. 

What you need to know

Symptoms of CUP

A cancer can sometimes develop and spread to another place in the body but the place where it started from cannot be found. Cancers are usually described by the place where they start, known as the primary site, so these types of cancers are called cancer of unknown primary.

People with CUP can have a wide range of symptoms.

These can include:

  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • breathlessness or discomfort in the chest
  • persistent cough
  • persistent pain (for example pain in the bones or abdomen)
  • swelling of the abdomen
  • jaundice
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin
  • headaches
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a lump or thickening in any part of the body
  • changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • unusual bleeding or discharge
  • unexplained fever that does not go away
  • night sweats.

Many of these symptoms are what doctors call ‘non-specific’. This means you can have similar symptoms with a range of medical conditions, not just with cancer of unknown primary.

The symptoms people experience usually depend on where in the body the cancer is and how the cancer is behaving.

In some early cases of cancer of unknown primary, patients may have few or no symptoms.

Next steps

What to do if you have symptoms

If you have symptoms that you are worried about, even if they seem minor, you should go to see a GP. Don't be embarrassed to bring up your concerns. 

Remember, cancers that are found earlier can be easier to treat.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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